PROFESSIONAL LIABILITY FUND
Malprac t i ce Pre ve n t i o n Ed u ca t i o n f o r O re g o n La w ye r s
Is It Time to Go Paper-Less?
workdays, billable hours, and rates. See Oregon
Motivated by environmental concerns,
improvements in technology, and the ever- State Bar 2007 Economic Survey, www.osbar.
increasing cost of storage, many law firms org/_docs/resources/07EconSurvey.pdf.)
are exploring the option of going paper-less.
● How much office space do you devote
Implementing a program to scan and digitally
to your paper filing system that could be used
store client files can be daunting. Investing in
for other purposes? In some firms, the estimate
appropriate hardware and software is just the
is as high as 150 linear feet per lawyer, if closets,
beginning. The process itself requires organi-
workrooms, conference rooms, lawyer offices,
zation, protocols, and commitment to training.
and secretarial space are included. If you have
Once a program is in place, you may find that
never sent closed files off-site, as much as 30%
you or your staff are devoting more time than
to 40% of your available space may be devoted
expected to the conversion. So is it worth it to
to storing paper records. For smaller offices in
go digital? Consider the following:
urban areas of Oregon, as much as $150 to $300
● How much do you spend each year on of your monthly rent payment may be attrib-
uted to keeping paper. (The Lawyer’s Guide to
storage and maintenance of your paper filing
Records Management and Retention, by George
system? Include the cost of folders, binders, pa-
C. Cunningham and John C. Montana, American
per, labels, notebook dividers, related office sup-
Bar Association, 2006.)
plies, photocopies, filing cabinets, desk storage,
shelving, boxes, annual storage fees, on-demand Converting to a digital filing system can help
delivery and retrieval fees, and destruction fees. you recoup these costs and recapture your bill-
THIS ISSUE able time. Beyond the immediate savings to your
● How much non-billable time is con-
pocketbook, going paper-less has other benefits:
sumed by maintaining or overseeing off-site
storage? Include time spent preparing files for ● Records are maintained on-site, acces-
storage, delivering files to storage, retrieving sible to everyone.
files from storage, reviewing files prior to de-
● The entire file is in one place.
struction, contacting clients, and updating your
● Client requests can be met al-
most instantaneously. Clients will no
● Are you frequently on the hunt for mis-
longer have to wait until the file is
placed files or papers? A lawyer who spends
retrieved from storage.
15 minutes a day looking for documents that
● Internal requests can be met quickly. You
are not properly filed will lose $12,300.75 in
will no longer have to wait to retrieve a file to
billable time by year-end. (“Unearthing Your
rule out a conflict of interest.
Hidden File Management Costs,” by David
Bilinsky and Laura Calloway, Law Practice ● You will be better prepared for elec-
Magazine, American Bar Association, March tronic filing (e-filing) as it expands to state
2007. The cost calculation is based on average court, administrative agencies, and other ven-
Continued on page 2
IN BRIEF includes claim prevention information that helps you to minimize the likelihood of being sued
for legal malpractice. The material presented does not establish, report, or create the standard of care for
attorneys. The articles do not represent a complete analysis of the topics presented, and readers should
conduct their own appropriate research.
ues. If you are a federal practitioner, you are already well- (PDF/A) ensures that files created in earlier versions of Acro-
schooled in the tips and traps of e-filing. If you are not an bat are guaranteed to be readable in future versions of PDF.
experienced e-filer, you may be in for a bumpy ride. In This is not a given if you attempt to keep files in their native
August 2008, the Oregon Supreme Court began accepting application (e.g., Microsoft Word® and WordPerfect®). In
voluntary e-filing of all documents. The goal is to ex- addition, PDF files are accessible to anyone who downloads
pand e-filing throughout all Oregon courts over a five-year the free Adobe Reader software. Firms using Acrobat 9 Pro
period, provided funding is obtained. (“Oregon eCourt or Pro Extended can take advantage of the many tools spe-
Implementation,” In Brief, Issue 105, August 2008.) cific to the legal profession. (See “Technology Tips – Using
Acrobat 9 in the Law Office,” Beverly Michaelis, In Brief,
● The paper won’t disappear. If you want a hard copy
Issue 105, August 2008.)
of any document, just hit “print.”
Purchase practice or document management software
So what are the drawbacks? Starting from scratch, hard-
to facilitate organization of data and capture of digital file
ware, software, and technology support (including training)
material (scanned documents as well as e-mail, Web pages,
can easily run $2,000 to $5,000 for a small office. Expect
graphics, video files, audio files, photos, word processing
complete implementation of a full-scale paper-less system
documents, and spreadsheets). Options for practice man-
to take several years, not months. For those brave enough to
agement software include Amicus (www.amicusattorney.
take the plunge, read about one firm’s journey in Our Paper-
com), Practice Master (www.tabs3.com), ProLaw (www.
less World, available on the PLF Web site. (See Additional
prolaw.com), and Time Matters (www.timematters.com).
Resources on page 5.) Here are some practical tips:
Some of the more popular document management programs
are Worldox (www.worldox.com), Interwoven Worksite
Staff (formerly iManage) (www.interwoven.com), Open Text
Involve staff throughout the process: selecting technol- eDocs (formerly Hummingbird) (www.opentext.com), and
ogy, establishing policies and protocols, and implement- NetDocuments from LexisNexis® (http://law.lexisnexis.
ing security measures. As the end users, staff can offer com/net-documents). If you are unsure how to proceed,
valuable insight into the flow of information and paper hire a computer consultant to assist in the selection, installa-
within the firm. Staff will also be more accepting of the tion, and customization of both hardware and software.
transition to digital files if their concerns and input are
Learn and use desktop search engines built into your
considered along the way.
computer’s operating system to find documents (Windows
Implementation will not succeed unless you invest in Desktop Search or Mac’s Searchlight).
training for everyone. This means a commitment up-front
Policies and Protocols
and on an ongoing basis as you experience turnover. Be
prepared to meet this need internally, or find a qualified
Develop file naming and organizing protocols. Using a
technology consultant who can help.
standardized filing system for paper allows us to find what
we want when we need it. The same applies to your digital
Technology filing cabinet.
Buy the best scanner you can afford. Fujitsu (www.fu-
Scan all incoming documents to PDF. Set your scanner’s
jitsu.com), Visioneer (www.visioneer.com), and Xerox
resolution to 150 – 300 dots per inch (dpi), sufficient to pro-
(www.xeroxscanners.com) are all good sources for scan-
duce good, clean copies of your original. (Although lower
ners. Purchase separate flatbed and sheet-fed scanners, or
resolutions produce smaller PDF files, the trade-off may not
buy a scanner with both features. A sheet-fed scanner will
be worth it. When in doubt, try a test scan before saving a
help you scan large quantities of standard-sized documents
document permanently to your system.)
quickly. A flatbed scanner allows you to place and scan small
or delicate items that should not be run through an automatic Print all outgoing work product to PDF, including e-mails.
Segregate PDFs from native application files. Create two
Instead of printing to paper, “print” to Portable Docu- folders for each client matter: one to contain all the PDFs and
ment Format (PDF). PDF captures documents as they appear one to contain native application files (word processing doc-
on-screen with fonts and formatting intact. Although there uments, spreadsheets, presentations, jpegs, html files, etc.).
are other PDF writers, Adobe Acrobat is the gold standard. The PDF folder becomes the client’s official digital file. The
Saving digital file content using Adobe’s archival standard native application folder contains working documents that
February 2009 www.osbplf.org
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you can continue to use and manipulate. done through file property settings in Adobe Acrobat or at
the network level by controlling access to folders.
Use case or document management software as an inter-
Once your system is up and running, consider enabling
face to help you organize, access, sort, and view your PDF
remote access for lawyers – and possibly clients to their own
Establish a retention policy for your digital files. Re-
Back up, back up, back up!
gardless of how files are kept, the PLF recommends that
all client files be kept for a minimum of 10 years. (See the
Beyond Client Files
PLF practice aid, File Retention and Destruction, available
at www.osbplf.org. Click on Practice Aids and Forms and
Once a successful system is in place for client files, con-
follow the link to File Management.)
sider converting administrative and accounting records to
Review the PLF practice aid, Checklist for Imaging Cli- paper-less record-keeping (such as scanning bank deposits
ent Files and Disposing of Original Documents, for addi- rather than copying them and e-mailing billing statements to
tional steps, including what to do with your paper once it has clients with e-mail accounts).
been scanned. (See Additional Resources below.)
Is It Paperless or Paper-Less?
Clients Going digital does not mean that all paper will go away.
Inform clients of your digital storage practices. Consider Many practitioners will still prefer to hold paper in their
providing clients with the original paper file after it has been hands, especially in the drafting or review stage. Many cli-
scanned. This will save destruction fees and give existing cli- ents lack digital access and will continue to need paper cop-
ents a complete copy of their file to date. Explain how you ies. A national survey conducted in 2008 found that 33%
will provide documents to clients in the future, both in the of U.S. heads of household had never used a computer to
regular course of business and in the event the client requests create a document, 18% of households are without Internet
his or her file. Update your fee agreement or engagement let- access, and 20% of all heads of household have never sent
ters to reflect these policies and procedures. an e-mail. (Survey: One-Fifth of Americans Have Never
Used E-Mail, by Steven Musil. [CNETnews.com, May 18,
When clients leave your firm, be prepared to provide them
with a complete copy of their digital file in a format they
can access. This may mean printing the file. With few excep-
tions, the client is entitled to the entire file. (See Client Files Beverly Michaelis
Revisited, available at www.osbplf.org. Click on Practice PlF Practice ManageMent advisor
Aids and Forms and follow the link to File Management.
See also, “You Have to Share – The format of documents Continued on page 4
doesn’t change a lawyer’s duty to release them to a client,”
by Kathryn A. Thompson, ABA Journal, September 2008.
Use commonly recommended security measures such as
routers, firewalls, anti-virus software, password-protected
access, and the like. If you are not well-versed in security
issues, take advantage of the ABA’s free Legal Technology
Resource Center, open to members and nonmembers: www.
abanet.org/tech/ltrc. Useful articles and books can also be
found through the Law Practice Management Section: www.
abanet.org/lpm/home.shtml. If you are still uncertain
how to proceed, hire an expert.
Take steps to ensure that documents stored electronically
cannot be inadvertently modified or destroyed. This can be
February 2009 www.osbplf.org
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The following are available on the PLF Web site,
www.osbplf.org, as a resource to those who are
ready to go paper-less:
● Checklist for Imaging Client Files and Disposing
of Original Documents (Technology)
● Digital Signatures (Technology)
● Mail Handling – Paperless Filing System (Mail
● Our Paperless World (Technology)
● Retention of Electronic Records (Technology)
In Brief Articles
● Document Destruction – June 2005
● Four Simple Ways to Save Client E-Mail –
● How to Back Up Your Computer (and Application
Service Providers) – February 2006
● Resources for Backing Up Your Computer –
● Technology Tips: Using Acrobat 9 in the Law
Office – August 2008
February 2009 www.osbplf.org
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